Short legs ... for walking up hills or because of the cold draught?

27 Oct 2011

At ... another misconception bites the dust - perhaps. It seems that the consensus view that Neanderthals had short legs in comparison to modern humans (although lots of people actually do have short legs), might be misinformed. It was thought it had something to do with the cold weather during the Ice Age - or rather the cold weather in Europe and western Asia over the last 200,000 years, and ending in around 35,000 years ago, when they disappeared in an inexplicatble fashion. Now, a new study in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 2011 146 (3): 336 is suggesting they had short legs because they favoured living in hilly and mountainous environments - and their legs adapted to the terrain. Short legs, especially below the knee, are thought to provide a benefit to people, and other animal species such as mountain goats, that climb up and down on a daily basis. One problem with this, perhaps, did Neanderthals live exclusively in hilly terrain - why not on the flat? What is the specific evidence for or against?